Monday, 22 February 2010

A lesson in leadership from the teenagers!

The pressure is mounting on those fast approaching GCSEs, with almost daily revision classes and schools running catch up sessions filling every available evening and even weekends. The expectation of many adults is to want their offspring to excel, achieve their very best, exceed their expected results and generally do better than others - understandably. Applications for tertiary education have been submitted, bearing likely grades, and the wheels on the selection machine are already turning. Yet against this backdrop of busyness many are struggling with motivation and desire to achieve. What is missing for these soon to be adults, who really shouldn’t have too much to be concerned about? Asking the question of a small group of Year 11 boys, and managing to get beyond the typically grunted response of “whatever”, was a lesson in leadership.

Asking the boys what would help encourage them to put in the effort now to get better results in the summer was enlightening. The consensus opinion was simple – it’s cash! If teachers and parents were prepared to pay a substantial hourly rate for study time, paid in cash and paid at the end of each hour then they would happily put in the time. When challenged about the quality of the output that would be generated by this payment the counter-challenge was that parents could pay extra for quality! How amusing to think that many businesses invest in management development, up-skilling them to negotiate and yet it’s an innate skill for these boys when the output is meaningful for them.

Thinking it can’t be all about money inspired further questions to try to discover what is missing for these boys, who incidentally are all of above average ability. What is missing is an understanding of the purpose for the incremental busyness they are experiencing. Yes, they know the exams are now only a few months away. Yes, they know they are expected to achieve their very best. And, yes, they are astute enough to know that the school league table of results for next year is depending on their efforts! But still the piece that is missing for them is a purpose that they can relate to. Even those with determination and a clear ambition for a future career are questioning why they have to memorise facts and learn knowledge now, that they can see no application of in their own futures. The piece that these boys want to understand is how what they are learning now will be of use to them in the future. They are lacking a vision and a purpose to align to, which means something now and longer term. So it’s not just about incentives but it’s also being able to see the value of what they are being asked to do.

How many employees are in the same position? They are driven by targets set by their business leaders, they are given resources and training and the tools to be more effective. Some are even encouraged and praised and rewarded for achievement by their leaders. But just like the GCSE students if they cannot see a purpose or a reason for the busyness that is meaningful to them, will they truly be motivated and give their best to the company or are they just thinking “whatever”?!